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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Moving forward, Spokane Public Schools confident after COVID-related changes at bus contractor Durham

UPDATED: Thu., April 29, 2021

Students board Durham School services buses in this file photo.   (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
Students board Durham School services buses in this file photo.  (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

Spokane Public Schools is “staying in very close communication” with its transportation contractor following several breakdowns in safety protocols this year, Superintendent Adam Swinyard told board members Wednesday night.

Part of an update on back-to-school progress, the report on Durham School Services recapped what Swinyard called “isolated incidents that protocols were not followed to our satisfaction.”

Those incidents included failure to follow COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols in several key areas, potentially exposing students to coronavirus as drivers and other employees became ill.

Swinyard told board members that while the district is “greatly appreciative” of the vast majority of its 120 drivers, “we were greatly disappointed in the breakdown of protocols.”

Swinyard, however, appeared to express confidence in Durham after the company made a complete sweep of local leadership in early April.

“They’ve reinforced training and protocols with their staff,” Swinyard said.

The failures, chronicled in emails between the district and Durham, led to unnecessary quarantines of hundreds of students.

The problems came to light after multiple Durham School Services drivers and other employees tested positive for COVID-19. The district learned of those positive tests not from Durham, but after test results had been received by the Spokane Regional Health District.

Under the district’s COVID-19 bus rules, all bus workers and riders are required to wear masks. Bus windows must be open to circulate the air more frequently. Also, no more than two students per seat are allowed.

The measures, which also include regular cleaning, social distancing protocols, mask requirements and health attestations, are part of the district’s strategy to maximize safety as more students return to in-person learning.

Seating charts, which are required by Durham and the district, are also part of that strategy.

But in the weeks before a COVID-19 outbreak among 36 Durham employees, the local office did not respond to the school district’s repeated requests for bus seating charts that would have eased the work of contact tracers and avoided needless quarantines of students, according to district emails.

Those concerns have led to two ongoing investigations by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries into Durham’s actions before and after the outbreak announced on Feb. 23.

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